The first reason I like Steph Curry is that he's a relatively normally sized human being who has figured out a way to become an NBA superstar. When you look at guys like Dwight Howard, LeBron James, or Dirk Nowitzki, it’s easy to see why they might be incredible basketball players. Stephen Curry doesn't look like those guys; someone with his exact figure could walk into any pickup gym in America and few people would notice. Curry is skinny and shortish by NBA standards, but pound-for-pound he is probably the best scorer the league has seen since Allen Iverson.
It’s Curry’s tiny frame and the current NBA injury plague that make what happened the other night in Denver more bothersome. Kenneth “Manimal” Faried stuck out his foot, in what was possibly an attempt to trip Curry, who could easily be nicknamed “beanpole.” I love Faried as much as anyone but was repulsed to see him resort to that. To me it seemed out of character and dickish (or malicious), which is a word I would never use to describe Faried or his game. Why would he resort to tripping? Those saying fouls like that are part of the game neglect to mention that this exact move could easily start a fight at any level of basketball. Tripping is never part of the game and it never should be.
A lot of people have argued, “Well, this is playoff basketball and hard fouls are the norm.” They cite the Pistons beating up Michael Jordan as an example. They imply that there’s some old-school cred associated with this stuff. There’s not, and thank god the days of clotheslining are bygone. Hurting dudes who make the NBA fun to watch is not cool now, and it never really was. If you want to watch big guys fight each other, there’s a sport for you, but it’s not basketball. There is no dignity in “touching up”; there should be no pride in substituting brutality for skill. And though it’s an argument for another time, you’ll find many of the same people who embrace the notion of hard gymnasium fouls on Friday preaching about the importance of player safety in other sports on Sundays.
The Jazz looked dead after a dispiriting road loss to Dallas two Sundays ago, and it’s tempting to write them off again after their defense no-showed (or, alternatively, showed up in its usual form) last night against a very enthusiastic Denver team missing its best player. But it’s too early to declare the Jazz dead. The most sophisticated playoff odds predictors have them somewhere between a 50/50 shot and 35/65 underdog to overtake the Lakers for the no. 8 spot.
To read the Essos (Eastern) Conference translator, click here.
Steve McPherson: As darkness sweeps the land, a lone figure works by dim light, trying to write one of those intros where it seems like he’s talking about Game of Thrones but then he’s really talking about basketball. Like one of those promos for a Transformers movie during the playoffs where LeBron James turns into a Porsche SUV and Russell Westbrook turns into a ball-dominating MINI Cooper? That kind of thing.
Back to the dramatic intro.
This solitary figure labors furiously through the night, but he needs help. He needs your help. And by "your," I mean netw3rk’s help. Which is you. And he’s me.
Never mind. Listen, we know how this works: HBO’s Game of Thrones is returning for a third season of T&A and D&D on Sunday, March 31, and the NBA playoffs kick off a few weeks later. Both should be reaching fever pitch in early June. Each revolves around a singular symbol of power: the Iron Throne or the Larry O’Brien Trophy. As soon as either is won, that possession makes the possessor a target, and each prize exerts an overwhelming gravitational force that organizes and distorts their respective worlds.
There's long been a general skepticism around the league about whether the Nuggets, so exciting and so dominant of late, can translate their regular-season success into true title contention. Three questions drive that skepticism:
1. Can they score in the clutch?
2. Can they score in the half court?
3. Can they defend well enough to beat elite offenses four times in seven games?
Denver has now won 14 straight after an improbable comeback against Philly on Thursday night that had George Karl telling Grantland this morning, “I woke up a lucky, lucky guy.” And though the schedule during that stretch has featured plenty of rest, close calls, and bad teams, it's also brought a handful of showdowns with the Western Conference’s elite — including two wins over the Thunder.
Denver has played top-five-level ball on both sides of the floor during this stretch — sort of a necessity for any 14-game winning streak. But dig a bit further, and watch the tape, and there are even more encouraging signs a real contender might be developing in the Rockies: The Nuggets are scoring well in the half court and destroying teams in crunch time.
I’d had a similar thought when the dunk happened, but I was doing my best to ignore it. I wasn’t ready to admit that all those hours I’d spent last week scouring the annals of alley-oop history were wasted. Alas, they were. The AOx+ (a.k.a. the wholly scientific metric used to determine alley-oop awesomeness) clocked in at 9.1, the second-highest figure ever recorded. That number is mostly a product of Brandon Knight’s death, and DeAndre reacting like he just killed Brandon Knight.
Because the previous power rankings are now obsolete, we figured this would be a good opportunity to sort through some of the other omissions that readers pointed out upon seeing the original post. With some thorough examination, we concluded that only one of these dunks (the first one below) was good enough for the new top five (sorry, Shawn Kemp), but the others are definitely among the best of the rest.
A survey of the players and teams making moves in last night's NBA action.
1. The Denver Dunkets
The Lakers are old; the Nuggets are fast. Last night, the Lakers went up on top of a mountain, and the Nuggets ran them right off of it. Denver had 33 fast-break points, and Los Angeles had three. Everything Denver is — young, fast, fun, and deep — the Lakers aren't (don't worry; the Lakers are probably going to sign Raja Bell, so this disparity should be taken care of). That first Iguodunka in the video above was the product of a Faried-to-Lawson-to-Brewer-to-Iggy fast break, where the ball took about two seconds to get from end to end, and never touched the ground. It's followed in that reel by a mid-air Iguodala-to-Faried alley-oop. AND NEITHER IS THE BEST THING THAT HAPPENED IN THE GAME.
A survey of the players and teams making moves in last night's NBA action.
1. Joe Johnson
Hey, guys, maybe you weren't in the last meeting, so I just want to catch you up. Apparently, the Barclays Center fills up on a cold Tuesday night when Milwaukee comes to town, the crowd actually rocks out a little, the Lakers-Staples theater lighting looks awesome, the Bucks are/were something of an arch-nemesis of the Nets (winning 13 in a row against the franchise, regardless of what side of the East River they were located), and Joe Johnson is now an ice-cold closer with a disturbing, growing dagger collection.
When the Houston Rockets pried Omer Asik away from the Bulls with an aggressive offer sheet, the most pressing question (after "Who?" and "Him?") was if he could maintain his effectiveness with greater playing time. As a backup center in Chicago, the towering Turk had spent only 15 minutes on the floor per game. But in that limited sample, there were intriguing indicators that he could be a valuable big man. He was an elite rebounder — averaging more than 17 boards per 48 minutes — and his defensive rating was 92, which meant he surrendered fewer points per possession than Dwight Howard's career-best.
Now, Asik is considered a "surprise," despite being a very similar player to the one we saw as a reserve on the Bulls. In truth, he's gotten better. His rebounding rate is slightly up, his free throw shooting has improved, and he's committing fewer fouls (a consequence of needing to stay on the floor, one category in which he's slipped is shot-blocking). Asik has become more comfortable on offense and is now supplementing those wounded-circus-bear reverse layup attempts with new tricks, such as a cutting catch-and-kick to the corner after rolling off a bone-melting pick at the top of the key. In general, he's proved that his success in Chicago could be replicated on a larger scale, even if some of that success was bolstered by playing alongside Joakim Noah and the Bulls' army of smothering wraiths.
We all know the Lakers are the single biggest story of the season, with four great players trying to reach an undetermined ceiling within the Princeton offense — and despite an uncertain bench whose only plus defensive big, Jordan Hill, is already nursing a herniated disc. Miami and Oklahoma City are powerhouses, the Spurs play the most pleasing brand of ball in the league, the Wolves will be without Ricky Rubio for much of the season, and both New York teams will be unavoidable. Let’s reach beyond the title contenders and big-market melodramas and find this season’s All League Pass Teams. Here are five teams who have the potential to be both exciting and good.
This comes via JaVale McGee's Twitter feed, which is sort of veering toward becoming an all-caps Google Reader talking about the AFC West ("MY DENVER FOLKS DON'T LIKE RAIDERS? OH I AIN'T KNO THAT! MY BAD Y'ALL ... EVEN THO I DON'T PLAY FOOTBALL!") and, apparently, photos of fellow Nuggets big man Kenneth Faried dressed up like Cookie Monster. Rocky mountain high.
So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is here to help you keep track of it all. You'll find takes on moments you might've missed from the previous night, along with ones you will remember forever.
Hero of the Night: Andre Iguodala
In the end what this Sixers team needed — after their regular-season hymn to the joys of team basketball — was a hero. In the absence of that, they turned to Andre Iguodala. And last night, that was just enough.
All season long, Iguodala seemed like the graduate still haunting his college campus bars, showing up at parties. Hell, audit some classes! Why not? Here's why not: This turf belongs to a new set of kids now. Namely, Holiday, Turner, Lou, and Thad. Iguodala was always a bridge from the Iverson-era Sixers to whatever was going to come next. This season, it felt like "next" had finally arrived.
I ride or die for the Sixers. Unfortunately for me, they are currently riding a four-game losing streak that is probably going to kill me. Sometimes, when you are being raked over the coals by the team that has your heart, your mind wanders. And mine has wandered to Denver.
On Monday night, the Nuggets beat the Warriors, 123-84, behind a career night from rookie Kenneth Faried (27 points, 17 rebounds). If the Nuggets are a new team to me (and you, non-Nuggets people), that's OK. They're pretty much a whole new team to Denver, too.
Rajon Rondo throwing a no-look alley-oop to Kenneth Faried during a stop on the State Farm Big Blue All-Stars Tour. If we ask really, really nicely WILL YOU PLEASE GIVE US AN NBA SEASON FOR THE LOVE OF NO-LOOK PASSES AND ONIONS?!!